?Albina AlijajProfessor Justin Felix
16 February 2018
What Makes a Good Story?
When it comes to writing a good short story. Many people in this world like to consider what elements are needed to reach the high standard of writing that authors have. Short stories need to include a lot of planning for these elements to clearly know what you are writing about. The elements should be used so strongly that it pulls you in; forcing every reader to connect with the people in the story. In the “Introduction” of the book “The 23 Great Stories” edited by David Leavitt and Aaron Thier, they argue about the most important elements that make a good short story. Leavitt and Thier argue that the writer has to think of how the story must be told, what effect must it have on a reader, and what is the best way to present the ideas. W. W. Jacobs wrote the short story “The Monkey’s Paw,” where it shows the important elements of how characters in the short story try to conquer fate or death and end up paying the ultimate price. However, Leavitt and Thier would publish Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw” in their next anthology by showing a sequence of events in the short story, expressing the attitude through the writing, and the perspective of the person telling the story.
To begin with, Leavitt and Thier explore the issue of sequences of events in the short story, also in their ”Introduction” which contributes to their argument the plot draws the reader into the character’s lives, and it helps the reader understand the choices that the characters make. For example, they borrow a quote from E.M. Forster that says, “The king died and then the queen died” and change it to “The king died and the queen died of grief” (x). In other words, they are telling the writer the first quote has no plot in the story, but the second quote the writer has provides a plot line for a story. In a plot, we meet characters and the setting, main characters who face a series of conflicts, the most exciting part of the story; then we learn the outcome, events leading to the end of the story and the end of the story. Furthermore, Leavitt and Thier’s analysis for the sequences of the event in the short story can be applied to Jacobs’s short story, demonstrating why they would publish this as a great story in their book. If we examine Jacobs’s short story alone, we can see that this short story is based on a magical paw that was brought to the White family by Sergeant Morris. He warns the family the danger of the paw, but the White’s still decided to have three wishes granted. They soon learn the paw makes people greedy, selfish, and ungrateful. For example, in this quote, ” You’re afraid of your own son,” Mrs. White cried, struggling. ”Let me go. I’m coming, Herbert; I’m coming” (210). Here, this quote helps set the plot of the story, because Mrs. White hopes to see if her son is behind the door, she unlocks all the locks and opens the door. When she opened the door, all she finds is the empty street. It keeps the reader engaged, they want to find out more/ solution to this plot.
In addition, Leavitt and Thier express the issue of the attitudes toward writing, which contributes to their overall concept that tone is the most elusive ingredient in any story. Leavitt and Thier argue about how the writer should describe the tone of each of the stories in this anthology by using many tools like words that describe feelings, judgments, opinions, experiences, and thought in order to create the tone of the story. For example, they state, ”But stories don’t have sound tracks. How, then, does the writer let us know what he wants us to feel?” (x). In other words, they want us to know that what the author feels about the subject and what the reader feels is known as the mood. Setting the mood is important in successful writing because mood brings life, excitement, fear, drama, romance, humor (etc.) to a story. Mood helps us, the readers, to have a deeper understanding of the story.
Furthermore, Leavitt and Thier analysis of the attitude through the writing can be applied to Jacobs’ short story, illustrating why they would publish it as a great story in their book. If we examine Jacobs’ short story alone, we can see that in the short story the tone is a supernatural type of tone. The paw sets the mysteriousness in the story. However, the tone of this story is dark because of the mood. The short story is filled with evil words and fear- filled thought from the characters. Also, this short story has a sad tone due to the fact that the White’s son died. From then on, the narration and the conversation took on a more negative tone. For example, in this quote, ”The first man had his three wishes, yes,” was the reply. ”I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That’s how I got the paw.” ”His tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group” (203). In other words, the last man who wished for the death as his last wish creates an automatic hush, which shows the midst of the mood that has been established.
Lastly, Leavitt and Thier explore the issue of the perspective of the person telling the story, which contributes to their overall concept that the point of view is who is telling the story. Leavitt and Thier argue about how a writer chooses to narrate a story. When a story is told from the 1st person point of view, the narrator is a character in the short story and uses first-person pronouns, such as I, me and myself and when it comes to a 3rd person point of view, the narrator is not a character in a story and uses words like he, she, and they to refer to the characters. For example, they use the quote by O’Connor and Forster that says, ”How can I know what I mean until I see what I say?” (ix). In other words, they are saying that this quote is regard to the first-person pronouns. To clarify that using 3rd or 1st person can both be effective ways to tell a story.
Furthermore, Leavitt and Thier’s analysis of the perspective of the person telling the story can be applied to Jacobs’ short story, showing why they would publish it as a great story in their book. If we examine Jacobs’ short story alone, we can see that “The Monkey’s Paw” is narrated in the third person, because the narrator is able to see and hear all events happening within the White’s house. Jacob uses this narration to his advantage, as he leaves the reader infers. For example, he states, ‘The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road” (210). In other words, he does not tell us exactly what happened to Herbert, and if it really was him knocking on his parents’ door. This idea is important because it leaves the reader questioning him/herself like who is knocking at the door, or what the third and final wish is. However, the narrator wants us to use our imagination and answer all the questions that we have in our mind, also to do this on our own.
In conclusion, Leavitt and Thier would publish Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw” in their next anthology by showing a sequence of events in the short story, expressing the attitude through the writing, and the perspective of the person telling the story. Stories are a great way to learn about life. Some people find textbooks and worksheets boring, they do not pay attention to them and do not learn from them. Stories can keep people interested while teaching them a lesson, how? By using the importance of the elements in a story which are used to connect with the reader. When we read, we want to connect to the story in a way to better understand. To truly enjoy what is written we need to become a character in the story. However, with the short story ” The Monkey’s Paw” we can see that this short story it had an important message that everyone should recognize, about wishing for more than what you need, and not being grateful for what you have. However, with the importance of elements in the story help us better see and feel the storyline.
Jacobs, W. W. “The Monkey’s Paw.” The Raven and the Monkey’s Paw, Random House, 1998, pp.201-210.
Leavitt, David and Aaron Thier. Introduction. The 23 Great Stories, edited by David Leavitt and Aaron Thier, Signet Classics, 2013, pp.vii-xi.